‘They asked abba Macarius “How should we pray?” And the old man replied, “There is no need to speak much in prayer; often stretch out your hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will and as you know, have mercy on me.’ But if there is war in your soul, add, ‘Help me!’ and because he knows what we need, he shows mercy on us”’
Prayer can be an easy and a difficult thing. The great temptation with it, just as with the writing of sermons is to use too many words. Many people get it wrong and ‘heap up empty phrases’ as though the more we say to God, the more likely he is to listen to us, and no doubt if we pester him for long enough then it’s bound to work in the end. The first monks in the Egyptian desert preferred to say little, or to use short phrases ‘O Lord open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise’ ‘O God make speed to save me, O Lord make haste to help me’. God knows what we want or need before we ask – it is the quality rather than the quantity of our prayer which matters.
The prayer which Jesus teaches us in this evening’s second lesson is a model of concision. In fifty six words of Greek (or 49 words of Latin), Jesus covers all that needs to be said in prayer. But the reason why we as Christians say it every day is not just because Jesus told us to pray this way, or that it sums up our prayers, but that as well as showing us how to pray it shows us how to live out our faith in our lives. Our lives and our prayer are not distinct; there are not separate boxes, for each affects the other. We are to go to God with the world on our hearts and to the world with God in our hearts. This is how we live out our faith in our lives, not to be seen by people, so that they can say ‘Oh look, there’s someone religious’ but so that our faith in a God who loves us, who heals and restores us, who feeds us in word and sacrament, may be something which attracts others to ‘come and see’.
Likewise, our fasting, our abstaining from meat on Fridays, is not done for show, to show how religious we are, or done with a miserable face, but to hold our souls and bodies in check, to help us to remember that while we may have plenty, there are those who will go hungry and die for lack of proper food and clean water. The more we do such things, the more we deepen our faith, and our relationship with the God who loves us.
As people forgiven and loved by God, we are to show this love and forgiveness to each other and to the world, in a way makes our faith both authentic and attractive that the world may believe and may give Glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.